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E3 2012: Where dedicated gaming handhelds went to die

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I'm a handheld enthusiast, have been since I first saw the full-color glory of the Sega Game Gear.

The proliferation of cheap tablet-and-smartphone games has meant tough times for the dedicated gaming handheld. The Nintendo 3DS had its price slashed within months of release, and the PlayStation Vita has been subject to many a gloomy prediction (including my own) thanks to a lack of support from retailers and a high cost of entry. These machines need a shot in the arm. They need a series of announcements that would make them relevant to gamers the world over. If ever there were a venue for such announcements, it was the 2012 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3).

I read articles and tweets, watched trailers, and sat on the edge of my seat as liveblogs of the Big Three's press conferences hit the Web. I waited for proof of life, for a reason to believe in the future of my favorite platforms.

But the news never came.

 

With regards to the Playstation Vita, we might have seen footage of Assassin's Creed III: Liberation, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, and the announcement of Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified, but it felt like the system was glossed over during Sony's presser. Think about it, the handful of games, apps and functionality (cross-play and original PlayStation support) seen during the conference had been revealed before E3 2012 (in some cases, well beforehand). Even news of the incoming YouTube app hit the Internet before the three-day event began.

Most troubling of all, Sony has at least 25 games to show for the troubled handheld, but I wouldn't have known that based on the coverage of the event that I saw. If not for a good friend — who pointed me to a NeoGAF thread on June 7 — I would've only had a handful of games to look forward to between now and the end of the year. Don't get me wrong. Things are still bleak, but at least the system's survival hinges on more than a Super Smash Bros. clone and some franchise tie-ins of which we've seen less than a minute of actual gameplay footage.

Then we turn to the Nintendo 3DS, which fared worse than the Vita in terms of the amount of games on show. During the Nintendo conference proper, a scant showing supported the portable with New Super Mario Bros. 2, Paper Mario: Sticker Star, and Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon being the only games shown in any great detail. Even with a third-party sizzle reel, Nintendo could only bring the 3DS game count to just more than a handful on the day.

Paper Mario: Sticker Star 1

During the painful 3DS Software Showcase broadcasted the following day, handheld enthusiasts were subjected to more forced chemistry among Nintendo's North American executive team. Even though we were treated to prolonged coverage of the three aforementioned and highly anticipated first-party titles, we only saw hints of a handful of underwhelming titles being developed outside of Nintendo's stables. After more than two hours of woefully-delivered PR speak and carefully-edited videos, we emerged with just more than 10 titles to hold on for.

For the dedicated gaming-handheld enthusiast, alarm bells should be ringing. With roughly 40 titles on our horizon, and suspicious absences from Monster Hunter Tri G for 3DS and Killzone for the Vita, I genuinely fear that our time might be at an end. Kotaku might have reported that Mario's master, Shigeru Miyamoto, is hinting at a new generation of portables, but I can't help but feel that such talk is premature with two machines struggling to find support from developers thanks to the mobile-and-tablet gold mine still offering big dividends to all takers.

E3 2012 was Sony and Nintendo's chance to create enthusiasm for their handheld devices, but instead the companies received press attention for all the wrong reasons. Consumers need a reason to get excited for the Vita and the 3DS, or else we'll all be turning to our phones to get our game on. For me, that's a worst case scenario, as I love the responsiveness and sense of enjoyment that's only possible with buttons and sticks.


Are you a handheld enthusiast? What did you think of the E3 2012 announcements?


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